I Talen Mañaina-ta

By: Laura M. Torres Souder, PhD
Democracy and Community
The Women of the Island – Three Generations | Designed by Ron J. Castro
Sculpted by Roberta Giovannini, Italy
Cast Bronze Sculpture, 1994

Maila mågi, famagu’on i achaguåfak-hu. Ekongok yu’. Hagas ha’ manggaigi i taotao-ta guini na tåno’. Manaotao tåno’ hit. Ni’ ngai’an na u ma funas i fino’-ta yan i tiningo’-ta yanggen un go’ti ya un na’metgot i talen mañaina-mu.

Her knee swollen and aching from the journey, Nanan Maga’hågan Hagåtña stepped off her sakman with a limp. Her granddaughter rushed to her side, while her grandson secured the canoe.

“Ñora Na, go’te i apagå-hu ya bai hu pipet hao hålom.” 

“Maolek, gof yayas yu’.”

“Ginen amånu hao?”

“Manetnon ham nu i mange’helo’. Ma sangåni ham put i maloffan na ira gi iya Humåtak.  Taiguini humuyong-ña. Annai umeguihan i maga’låhi yan i manachaguafak-ña gi i mattingan, ma li’e’ na guåha humåhalom såhyan tåsi ginen i sanlagu. Ma tungo’ na manñålang i mantatasi sígon anåkko’ i hinanao-ñiha. 

Ha na’ ma guaifi i kulo’ ya manyina’u i taotao i sengsong. Manmañule’ hånom sinaga, niyok yan nengkanno’ ya manhuyong gi galaide’-ñiha. Meggai siha manmanagam. Mangeftao nu i nina’i. 

Gi i tutuhon, maolek i umásodda’-ñiha. Ti ma tungo’ nu i taotao-ta taimanu ma fatinås-ña i galaide’-ñiha i taotao sanlagu, ma chule’ håcha para u ma la’attan sigon i hinengge-ta. Lao bumåba humuyong-ña.  Ma hongang i taotao Humåtak gi i tatalo’ puengi. Guaha dångkolo na achåki. Fiti na låhi manmapuno’. Ma puta’ i tiyan-ñiha ya ma såkke i tilipas-ñiha. Inipos manmachålek na taotagues. Ma songge tåntos guma’ ya ma yamak  meggai na guinaha.”

“Na, kao manggagaigi ha’ i mambåban taotao gi tano’-ta?”

“Ahe’, manalula huyong gi tasi ya mahotde i sahyan-ñiha. Ilek-ña si Maga’hågan Humåtak na manggofmutong ya manchátpa’go na taotagues. Ha ngingingi ha’ i pao chetnot-ñiha. Eyu numaluluhan gui’. Sa’ i chetnot ginen i sanhiyong ti siña un li’e’ lao gai påoguan.”

Once the Maga’håga of Hagåtña settled in on her guafak and rubbed healing ointment from the yo’amte on her aching knee, she asked her granddaughter to summon the children of her clan. Wide-eyed and terrified by the recounting of the incident that occurred on the shores of Humåtak Bay, they listened carefully to the wise counsel of the highest-ranking female in their clan. 

“Maila mågi, famagu’on i achaguåfak-hu. Ekongok yu’. Hagas ha’ manggaigi i taotao-ta guini na tåno’. Manaotao tåno’ hit. Ni’ ngai’an na u ma funas i fino’-ta yan i tiningo’-ta  yanggen un go’ti ya un na’metgot i talen mañaina-mu. U taihinekkok i hinanao-ta nu i Manaotao Håya. 

Tatfoi i minalago’-hu na un hassuyi ya un yuma i mattan mañaina-ta mo’na. På’go ma tungo’ åmanu na manggaigi hit nu i taotao sanlagu. Fanhongge chaddek, guåha ta’lo achaki manmamaila’. Hoggue i mafa’nå’guen-miyu. Na’ figo’ yan ma’ok i ginedden-miyu. Yanggen un cho’gue i tinago’-hu, ti u måktos i finiho’.”
* * *

The events of that fateful day in 1521, when Magellan and his crew made their stopover on Guam to replenish water and food supplies as they circumnavigated the globe, began fairly well. Hundreds of galaide’ and proa sailed out to greet the seafarers from the West. The intrepid taotao tåno’ gave provisions generously, as they knew the challenges of voyaging long distances in uncharted seas. The scurvy-ridden, starving sailors aboard the remaining ships in Magellan’s fleet, the Armada de Molucca, must have been a sight to behold.

The taotao tåno’ were curious about the construction of the ships that sailed close to their island home. A small skiff caught the fancy of several young men as they loaded provisions from their canoes onto the Trinidad, captained by Magellan himself.  They took the skiff in exchange for the water and food so generously shared.

The expedition’s Italian chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, gave a detailed account of what transpired. Angered by the disappearance of the skiff, Magellan and forty of his men rowed ashore under the dark of night and unleashed their rage on the unsuspecting people of Humåtak. Seven men were killed and gutted. Their entrails, thought to have medicinal properties, were taken back to the sick sailors. Forty to fifty houses and some canoes were burned. Magellan and his crew took their skiff and sailed off. Such an unbalanced act of retribution. 

The sight of hundreds of fast-moving canoes, many with woven sails, surrounding the visiting ships inspired the name, “Islands of Lateen Sails.” This gave way to the “Islands of Thieves” in a flash. The customary respectful exchange of goods in the spirit of reciprocity was totally misunderstood. The killing and burning of houses marked the beginning of violent encounters that were to come. The Islands of Laguas and Gåni would no longer be known by their indigenous names. 

The trepidation that the council of elders must have felt as they convened to ponder the impact on the Taotao Håya, a free and sovereign people, was a foreboding omen of what was to befall all the clans. The sea, which was a vast expanse of routes between islands and a rich source of sustenance, became a portal for conquest. 

The given names of the maga’håga of Guam’s clans were not to be documented, unlike the names of their counterparts, the maga’låhi, who are cited in the various accounts written by explorers, Spanish colonial and American administrators, missionaries and other visitors. Today, we know of them only through their sacred burial places where they lay with their kin. 

To our ancestors, the first people of Laguas and Gåni, kinship was paramount. Next to caste, 
membership in the clan was the most significant determinant of status. A clan consisted of several extended families tied together by mutual obligations, which involved the exchange of labor, food and other resources, the use of land, and the ritual and ceremonial activities of its members. Descent within the clan was reckoned through the female line. This matrilineal principle conferred power and prestige on CHamoru women.

Among kin, age determined rank. The oldest woman (maga’håga) and her oldest brother (maga’låhi) were the highest-ranking individuals. Together they wielded considerable control over clan affairs, property, and stewardship of natural resources. Rank within the clan was determined by seniority along the direct first-born uterine lineage from the highest to the lowest as follows: great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, grand-aunt, aunt, sister, female first cousin, and daughter. Married women took precedence over the unmarried. Women were the primary culture bearers. It was their responsibility to keep the stories of the taotao tåno’ alive through the centuries. It was their obligation to co-guide and co-lead their clan through good times and bad. The same holds true today. 

Maga’håga, used for the first time in Guam’s modern political history, is the official title given to our first elected female Governor, Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero.  The term is a composite of two significant power words in the CHamoru language: ma’gas, which means traditional leader or in today’s parlance, boss or chief executive; and håga, which means daughter. Combined, this prestigious designation has great significance and is rooted in our ancestral system of social organization and matrifocality.

Much has changed in the past five hundred years to be sure. Our language, the umbilical cord to our culture, has been frayed, worn and has come dangerously close to being destroyed. Today, we, the descendants of the resilient Taotao Håya, are heeding the wisdom of our ancestors to strengthen and revitalize the cord, i talen mañaina-ta, which connects us with their legacy. 

Click here to view the English-CHamoru version.
Democracy and Community